Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Return of Rob Ford

I couldn't help but think about time last night. I suppose the shadow of 2011 tilted a lot of peoples' thoughts in that direction. In particular, I was thinking how good it is that while it is easier to destroy than to create, in some circumstances it's not the easiest thing in the world to get the destructifying going. What I'm most thankful for, though, is that what's past is done.

Even before I left Toronto the greenscaping improvements along Bloor Street were controversial, and Hizzoner Rob Ford was hardly the only mayoral candidate that fulminated against it. From what I can tell, though, at this point it's all done aside from a few tree plantings scheduled for the spring - and it's a good thing it's all done, because if I've been able to judge Rob Ford's character from his pronouncements, had he had the chance to put an end to it, he certainly would have.

It's a good thing, I thought while wandering through an dark, shuttered New Year's Eve Yorkville, that Ford can't retroactively stop this. Wait a minute...

Back in the 1980s, Larry Niven wrote the short story "The Return of William Proxmire," wherein everyone's favorite anti-space, milk-price-support-supporting Wisconsinite senator got hold of a time machine and used it to go back in time to cure Robert A. Heinlein of tuberculosis - the idea being that with Heinlein remaining in the Navy, he would not become a prominent sf author and would not inspire the scientists and engineers that came after him.

Of course, it didn't work out that way.

So imagine, if you will, "The Return of Rob Ford," in which the mayor gets hold of a time machine. What might he do with it? Realistically there's only one person who can answer that, but what seems believable is that he might use it to go back to the late 1960s and work to prevent the rise of the Streetcars For Toronto Committee. Without a surge of popular support in favor of retaining the streetcar system, the TTC could easily have remained on its original trajectory toward total streetcar abandonment by 1980 - and more importantly for Ford, he would be laying the foundations for a 21st century city in which transit was all shoved underground, out of the cars' way.

Or would he?

I've written before about my opinion that light rail transit is having an unfair shake in Toronto because of the automatic comparison to streetcars; hell, Transit City is frequently referred to _as_ a "streetcar" program by its political opponents. That problem would be significantly lessened in the absence of an active streetcar system - consider cities like Los Angeles, Edmonton, Phoenix, and Cincinnati, which are replacing abandoned streetcar systems with modern light rail systems - and, in Cincinnati's case, a modern streetcar system.

So, instead, imagine a 1980s Toronto where the streetcars have ceased to run. Transit pressures would still exist, and the political issues that precluded meaningful subway expansion after 1978 would likely remain unchanged. Imagine a climate where there was a greater openness to light rail; imagine the beginning of construction of a complementary light rail transit system in 1990, a construction program that would not have to reckon with opinions toward streetcars or the fallout of the St. Clair right-of-way reconstruction.

Sure, of course, that changed timeline would have to deal with the expense of not only tearing up the tracks, but entirely rebuilding them... but it might be worth it.

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